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Passion kills romance

Daniel Copeland does not fit the accepted Romeo ideal. He is an excellent actor but not exactly a hunk; in fact he has just finished playing Buttons in Harrogate Theatre's panto. His director, Andrew Manley, reasons that a dishy hunk would detract from the play and he needs someone with the ability to project youth and innocence.

"Romeo is not as cut and dried as I first imagined," Daniel says. "There is an element of doubt - is this Romeo a good bloke, or an idiot? Is he a drip who's in love with himself?" Harrogate's forthcoming Romeo and Juliet does not show a gentle Barbara Cartland romance, but raw, red-blooded passion. Romeo has perhaps been in love with the idea of being in love, but when he meets Juliet it is love with an explosion of sexual desire, a combination that he can't quite handle. He has to be taught to love with the passion that Juliet demands.

"Most of the modern productions appeal to kids, but not to adults," says Manley. "Kids can identify with that sexual desire, that 'burn' on the dance floor - 'I really fancy her!' It's a young play for young people. It's fast, it's quick and there's very little poetry.

"The danger with Romeo and Juliet is to try to set it at a particular time, or in a particular place, to make it relevant."

He plans a neutral, broadly modern setting. His actors will begin in Elizabethan costume, to emphasise the history of the conflict, and then "slide" into modern dress and perhaps slide back into period costume for the final scenes. The action is set in a modern club with two dance floors, the gap between them emphasising the splits in society, between the families, between young and old, between male and female. Members of Harrogate Theatre's youth group will be in the club, watching the action as an audience. Then, for the fight and the party, the action will spill off the dance area into other parts of the club, and the youth members will become involved as actors. It is a blurring that Manley feels is right for the play, suggesting again that Romeo and Juliet could be happening now.

Who is to blame for the tragedy? Some modern directors want to blame the older generations or the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, but Manley says it is dangerous to look for answers. Life is messy and, despite a certain mathematical intricacy in his plays, Shakespeare reflects that. The feud is there and a tragedy is waiting to happen. Manley is concerned with the detail of relationships, wanting audiences to relish the detail of the subtext. Why is Lord Capulet so angry with his daughter? Is there something uncomfortable? Are there skeletons in some cupboard somewhere? What is the detail of the relationship between the Nurse and Juliet? How much did Romeo really care for the fair Rosaline?

Harrogate Theatre. January 23 to February 15. Tel: 01423 502116

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